We are a group of twenty from across the country, our common goal to refine, focus, and elevate our voices on the implications of an aging society—essentially, to change our aging narrative from one of decline to one of inspiration and growth.

We are the first class of the Encore Public Voices Fellowship, a partnership made possible by The Op-Ed ProjectEncore.org, and Ann MacDougall. We are a reflection of the future, comprising a group that is diverse in age, gender, race, culture, vocation, and region. And we all care deeply about how to support and engage our current and future aging populations in a way that increases economic and social opportunities for all.

In a time when it is easy to find despair, we found inspiration in each other.

We see boundless intergenerational opportunities for the development of young people. Just ask Atalaya Sergi, who seeks to engage older adults to help improve pre-K-12 education; Judy Cockerton, who is creating multigenerational families and communities to re-envision our child welfare system; and Raymond Jetson, who aims to reclaim elders as leaders and mentors.

We see how the generations can support each other. Just ask Joy Zhang, who creates meaningful relationships between college students and older adults; Ryan Frederick, who describes the benefits to purposeful—and intergenerational—living; Brenda Atchison, who opened her home to students in need of affordable housing; and Mick Smyer, who is inspiring kids to work with their parents and grandparents to tackle climate change.

And we see the need to reimagine our social, economic, and educational systems to engender more opportunities for all. Just ask Sarita Gupta, who notes the unjust experiences of those who care for our aging populations; Ayele Shakur and Sylvia Brown, who ask you to rethink your charitable giving; Ann Grimes, who asked if it’s time for women to stop lying about their age; Odile Robotti, who examines what’s holding us back from encore careers; and Julianne Taaffe, who spoke on national television about her experiences fighting age discrimination.

These are just a few examples. In total, our class of 20 fellows has generated more than 80 op-eds, podcasts, television interviews, and features in newspapers and magazines in just over eight months. We span the entire career spectrum, from early to mid to encore careers.

We are also using our expertise to advance social justice in other fields. Just ask Linda Aristondo, who describes the civil rights issues at the heart of federal jail conditions; Brandon Ross, whose forthcoming documentary highlights the bias faced by so many on the road to employment; Marlon Smith, who argues for the advancement of a black womanist agenda; Onita Estes-Hicks, who reviews the Society of Jesus’s (“the Jesuits”) sale of enslaved persons to Louisiana in 1838 and its response today; and Selena Sermeño, who questions our country’s response to those seeking asylum from Central America.

Putting your voice out there can be scary. It can feel like you are screaming into the ether. But the time is now to have these discussions. By 2030, more than one out of every five Americans will be aged 65 and older and nearly two in five will be aged 50 and older. That’s either a lot of horsepower or untapped experience, depending on how we use it.

We need a balanced conversation. We must focus on transcending many of the problems and disparities associated with aging, such as cognitive decline. Just ask Karen Lincoln, who is advocating for the needs of older African Americans, a group disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Yet we must also rejoice in and steadfastly pursue the possibilities of an aging society. Those who reach 65 today are expected to live nearly 20 more years, on average—that’s about 8,000 days. And only about three in 100 Americans aged 65 and older are living in nursing homes. In my own work, I examine the needs and desires for longer working lives and advocate for better protections for the one in five older workers who are self-employed.

What we’ve learned in our fellowship has been eye opening. From identifying our areas of expertise to writing op-eds and learning the ins and outs of the submission process, these are new skills for most of us. Through it all, we’ve had the support of two experienced and inspiring journalists. Rejections can be tough, but we are heartened by a beloved and oft-repeated saying by The Op-Ed Project: “If you say things of consequence, there may be consequences. The alternative is to be inconsequential.”

We’ve got more to come, including new op-eds and podcasts, academic articles making their way through peer review, and collaborations under development. We have taken this opportunity—this privilege—and run with it. And we aim to be a source of support and inspiration for future cohorts of this important and impactful program. When we see so many opportunities to enrich the world, what better time is there to start than now?

 

Cal J. Halvorsen, PhD, MSW, is an assistant professor at the Boston College School of Social Work and one of the 20 fellows in the inaugural class of the Encore Public Voices FellowshipNominations just opened for the next round of the fellowship and are due June 26, 2019.

Published: May 30, 2019